Tuesday, November 01, 2005

Abuse of the word Abuse

Have you ever witnessed a slap to the face or a shove against a wall? The concept of abuse is often seen as physical and dangerous. Over the years I've only had one acquaintance that I knew to be physically abusive. The acquaintance is now in my category of a "dissolved friendship." This may surprise some of you but the abuser is also a women. While her husband was perfectly capable of stopping her from hitting him, he often times simply became her target and waited out her emotional outbursts. I never did figure out why he didn't retaliate. I do believe I may have figured out part of her problem.

I like to read books about the study of human nature and psychology. I read somewhere that some people have a pattern of instigating fights within a relationship, not because there's something to fight about, but because they are needing emotional reassurance. Sound crazy?

In the case of my friend, she claimed she grew up in a verbally abusive home. The pattern she now has was probably learned from childhood. That's where most of us have gotten screwed up, if in fact we are screwed up. Anyway, I believe her unprovoked outbursts were actually her way of initiating a dose of affirmation. Now you do think I'm crazy. The pattern plays out like this. She would go off like a rocket about stuff that was usually benign to a normal person. Then she'd wait for the response from her spouse. Usually he simply put up with it while trying to walk away. Only twice did he come to my house to spend the night.

The deal is, nothing happened. That's the affirmation part. If I yell and scream and holler and threaten and blame and rant and rave and yet you don't throw me out, then you must still love me. Weird huh? Yet it's a theory of psychological studies that some people are this way. They constantly create storms for themselves and if nobody stops them or kicks them out or disciplines them, their twisted belief is, "I'm still loved because you didn't get rid of me even though I really deserve it."

It's basically the story of a child. No matter how many times they mess their pants or spill their milk, we clean them up and continue to tell them we love them. In normal situations however, we also teach our children how to grow beyond making the messes. In the case of my friend, somebody forgot to tell her to stop making these emotional messes. She's still a child inside and is living in a "stuck" mindset. I've seen her scream and yell at her poor husband about absolute nonsense. In fact I've witnessed screaming tantrums that had no real opportunity for a solution other than let her one-sided ragefest burn itself out. She's like the kid who learns that negative attention is better than no attention at all.

I believe that's probably the real issue. Her father, who she claims was verbally abusive, probably only communicated to his children when things were a mess. He probably hadn't learned to provide a balance of loving affirmation and acceptance for his children. Therefore, they grew up with a learned behavior. Being verbally abusive is how you tell someone you love them and that you care. It sounds like this. "My dad yelled at me but still allowed me to live in the house. I was told I was worthless and yet I wasn't thrown out with the trash." Hmmm. Can you see how twisted some people's logic can become? Be careful how you treat your children.

This thought of verbal abuse hit me late into the night as I was sound asleep and I felt compelled to get up this morning and journal about it. The last thing I want to be called is an abuser and yet I'm sure there are times my words have qualified me for the title. If you're honest, I'm sure you'd agree you could say the same thing. Just as I did last night, we all need to wake up and consider the impact of some of our personality traits and how they may have been just as abusive as a slap to the face. In fact, verbal abuse is the worst kind of emotional abuse and is just as likely to damage a life forever as a slap to the head.

How about this kind of abuse? Have you ever seen or known a control freak? This person needs to create safety and security in their life and they usually do so by demanding they be in control. I did that for many years until a close friend mirrored for me the abuse I was inflicting on my wife.

Have you ever had a spouse or friend, that struggled with an addiction, blame you or others as the cause for their problems? Or worse yet, they can't admit they are an addict. The addict has done the same as the control freak. They've found a behavior that meets their need for love, affirmation, security, belonging, or power. Even a "neat freak" is an addict. They are somehow locked into a pattern of thinking that has them believing the world can't possibly survive with some chaos.

What is addiction? Here's the definition I've been mulling over in my skull. An addiction is any behavior that becomes an automatic response to escaping emotional pain or the belief that you're defective. It is any behavior that alters your perception without actually changing reality.

Okay, back to "neat freaks." I have another friend who is just that. She was at one time my neighbor and would often tease me about my lack of ability to finish my projects around the house. On the other hand, I'd tease her about her lack of ability to "live" in her house. The pattern for her was that she could never have a clean enough house. Her daughter was best friends with my daughter and one day while the two fo them were on the phone, my neighbor's daughter started laughing and relaying to my daughter that her mom had just walked in the door and without taking her coat off or laying down her purse, was already vacuuming the living room carpet.

What makes us crazy like this? Pain. Painful abusive experiences from the history files in our lives. After many years of teasing one another, the day came when I finally was given a glimpse into my neighbors real story. She confided in my about an experience that forever changed her life. As a young teenager, she had been raped. As I remember it, it was by more than one person. What does that abuse do to you? It communicates some very negative "self talk" and lies. I can only imagine, from that day on, she started to believe she was defective.

My guess is she went on to play a broken record over and over in her mind. The message went like this. "You should have been more careful. You were out of control. You could have avoided this if you'd been in control. You were powerless and yet if you'd been in control of your life you'd have avoided this. You are now defective and dirty. The whole world sees you as dirty. The whole world sees you as out of control and powerless."

These types of messages on that broken record continually scrape at the scab and human nature drives us to find a cure for the pain. You want a healing salve that will cover up the sore and you want a way to bandage it so other's don't see how ugly it looks. Somewhere my neighbor learned that being a neat freak was her prescription for being lovable. If she appeared to have everything in her external world in order and clean, then maybe you wouldn't see how dirty and out of control or powerless she was on the inside. This behavior got so bad that her daughter would sometimes change into my daughter's clothes during their play time just so she could return home with her clothes clean and thus not get in trouble.

How does our behavior affect children when they grow up? How does our pain affect the beliefs of our kids? The message is... "here's what being lovable requires." It's a message of performance-based acceptance. Your house is not a home, it's a museum to the pain you once experienced and we all must live like this so we too can be lovable and pain-free. The problem is, nobody knows you were raped. Nobody knows you are dirty. In fact, we all think you are lovable just the way you are. The fact is, you weren't out of control when you were raped. Nobody should have to worry about being out of control. The truth is, those who raped you were out of control and they are the ones who should be experiencing some level of "broken record messages" that are reminding them of what they did. The abuse from the rapist became abuse from the victim and tomorrow, maybe her daughter will be abusive. Although not physically, emotionally trapping those around her in an addictive pattern of thinking. The kind of thinking that says... "a behavior will medicate our wounds."

Here's another example of abuse. Have you ever known someone that can't converse without telling you how much money they have or success they're experiencing? You know by the near mention of their name that you'll be hearing about the latest and greatest in success stories. Are these people as bad as the addict or the physical abuser? I'd contend they are. It's a simple "all about me" attitude they have that leaves your relationship with them shallow and unfulfilling. They too communicate a message of performance- based acceptance.

I've got another friend that always converses in these terms. No matter how bleak the outlook, he's succeeding. Now I've got nothing against being positive and optimistic, however, if your optimism blinds you from reality, eventually you'll be very unsuccessful. I don't know if his optimism is an attempt to appear and sound successful because in his eyes he isn't or if it's his belief that only successful people are lovable. I'm not sure. I do know that at one time he was an alcoholic and years ago he was set free from that addiction. I also know that most addictions or addictive patterns of thinking don't leave our history files just because a bad behavior has. I wonder if the pursuit of success has replaced his pursuit of the bottle. If he's not careful, he too will be communicating that performance-based acceptance is the message of love. I also know that over emphasizing the optimism can cloud reality and eventually, you're books aren't balancing, you owe taxes, and your cover is about to be blown.

Of course you're saying... "what's wrong with all of this?" Again, most of these things aren't bad unless the behavior is a bandage for your bondage to wrong beliefs and it has become overkill. Some people drink because they think they're more lovable when they can loosen up. Some people want more success because they think they're more lovable when their wallet is full. Guess what? What if we love you without your booze and without your money? I've yet to meet a wife who constantly tells her husband to go get drunk so he can come home and be lovable. Whether the behavior is positive or negative, they all have the propensity to screw up our lives if they are being used as salve for an emotional wound.

How about the lady who is constantly talking about her kids and what perfect little angels they are? You and I both know they're more like demons but to this lady it's not possible. They can say only good things about the little rug rats and are seldom if ever seen correcting or disciplining them. Would you say this person has a problem? You might if you stop to think that the constant spotlight on the kids may be a tool for mom (or dad) to bolster self esteem. She can't see herself being lovable or good without pointing out an external source for grading her. It's called "codependent." When you can't see yourself valuable or lovable without the use of others who are connected to you, you are codependent. What if we love you without ever meeting your children? You say that isn't possible? Hmmmm.

Now, the thought that woke me up last night is this. Is it possible that any or all of these people are abusers? The answer is yes. No you say? Well, look at it this way.

Emotional abuse is just as, if not more, damaging than physical abuse. When looking at these behaviors that I've mentioned we have to ask ourselves how the behavior affects the people around us when it comes to others needs being met. What messages are our children, spouses or even neighbors receiving about the definition of what "lovable" means? If you have not worked on your own history files and unraveled the lies they may have caused you to believe you are defective, you are essentially passing on the same abuse you yourself received. It may appear in different clothes but the body underneath is identical. This is how families with divorce produce children who experience divorce. This is how alcoholics produce children who become alcoholics. The abuse isn't always in the behavior because behaviors can change. The abuse is in the passing on of a false belief of what "lovable" looks like.

How do you sort it all out?

Here are just a couple of examples of how sorting out whether or not you are abusing those around you. I could write forever on examples because there are a bazillion behaviors we can adopt in an attempt to cure our pain. I'll only write a couple because the truth is, I've got to go out and finish preparing for winter before the snow flies here in Minnesota.

I believe your four basic emotional needs are to...

A. Know and feel loved
B. Know and feel secure
C. Know and feel a sense of belonging
D. Know and feel power to protect yourself and to control your destiny.

In light of these four basic emotional needs, the next step is to filter the affects any and all of our behaviors might have on them.

Abuse of the drug addict: If the addict doesn't decide to make a change in their life and overcome their addiction they are in essence saying to those close to them, I'm going to screw up your four basic needs as well. My life will be all about abusing you even though I'm the one taking drugs.

Here's what the addict is ultimately saying.

Love: "My addiction is what I love more than you. Security: My addiction offers security for me but insecurity for you therefore you may never know what security looks like. Belonging: I'm defective and unlovable and don't belong so my addiction is how I escape that painful feeling. However, because I'm an addict, you are forced to be the friend of a disfunctional personality and thus your sense of belonging is now abnormal which may eventually cause you to feel defective. I don't care though because it's only my pain that matters. You'll probably never know what it feels like to "belong" in a normal family because of the chaos my addiction causes. Power: I am an addict and powerless to overcome. As a result of that belief, I'm also causing those around me to be powerless to my addiction. They won't be empowered to protect themselves nor to control their destiny as long as I'm an addict and continue interrupting their lives both emotionally and physically. So what if they have a broken heart. They are powerless to fix me and I'm the one who keeps them feeling powerless.

The Control Freak: If the control freak doesn't decide to make a change in their life and overcome their tendency to be overbearing and over controlling, they are in essence saying to those close to them that their needs don't matter.

Love: My control is what I need in order to feel loved. However, this control freak nature of mine may also communicate to others that they are not lovable unless they are willing to be controlled. The control freak communicates tremendous conditional love and acceptance. Only people who can be manipulated are lovable. Security: The friends and family of a control freak have no personal security. They are brainwashed to believe the control freak is necessary to their existence because the control freak takes on the entire burden for providing security rather than teaching or imparting that their family members have the ability to provide their own security. I have another friend who doesn't allow family members to meet or be left alone with appliance repairmen because without the control freak there, security is an issue. His family isn't taught to be cautious but rather paranoid and dependent on someone else to fend for them. There is no security for his wife when she came home one day and found her control freak had put the house up for sale without asking her. I'm sure she lives every day, as my wife once did, with the insecurity that they may be getting a new car, taking a trip, buying furniture, completely renovating the house and all without the wife's input. That's a lot of insecurity.
Belonging: The family members of the control freak soon learn that nothing belongs that hasn't been decided by the control freak. This even offers subliminal messages of whether or not they even belong period. After all, control freaks by their nature believe they have to be in control so things can be perfect. However, because the control freak is all about "what's perfect," the rest of the family members soon realize they aren't. If they were, they'd get to make some decisions and they'd get to be in control. I used to choose my wife's employment, hair style, clothes, etc. I needed to feel that she was another one of my accomplishment and the only way to do that was to control her. Hmmmm. Power: Control Freaks have robbed all family members of power to protect themselves and to control their destiny. No child or spouse will live with the freedom of making a decision without the fear of what the control freak is going to do or say. The dress may be going back to the store. The wallpaper order may be cancelled. The spouse may be powerless to choose a job or career unless the control freak gives the okay. Family members of control freaks become experts at manipulation only because they have to in order to survive. They do things behind the control freaks back knowing how they'll have to do their dance once discovered. It's a sad game and all very unnecessary.

My control freak friend grew up somewhat like me which meant a childhood of being made fun of and/or picked on constantly. Those are experiencing that create a "victim mentality." You grow up believing you're defective because normal kids aren't made fun of. The first thing a victim will choose to do is find their power to control their destiny. Power is the answer to being victimized. My power, my friend's power, became the role of a control freak. I eventually dealt with it and 15 years later, I'm no longer feeling the need to control anybody. However, I hadn't worked on the pain enough and went on to other addictions. I eventually figured out it's not the behavior but my beliefs. My friend, well let's just say he's in for a rude awakening someday.

The above examples are just to show you how you might examine your own life and behaviors. The truth is, any behavior can eventually be out of balance and cause emotional abuse to those around us. All because we have emotional pain that needs healing.

How do you rid yourself of being an emotional abuser?

1. Get over yourself. You're not God and you can't fix a broken heart or broken history. If you've got something in your history file that won't let go of you, get some help so you can learn how to release those chains. You can't do this alone. Tell your spouse, your family, your friends, that you're ready to humble yourself and get help.

2. Ask for forgiveness. By asking those you truly love to forgive you for being abusive, you are also admitting that you have been. You are making a step toward involving others in your journey as you escape the "only I can fix this" mentality. Start learning to open yourself up. Some people won't be of any help and may even hurt you further but those that are real friends and really love you, will start the journey with you.

3. Start speaking truth: For too many years you've been governed by lies. You need to look in the mirror and begin each day with some positive "self talk." Even God believes in "self talk." The Bible says, "let the weak say I am strong." That's a great message to repeat to yourself every day. Look in the mirror and start proclaiming the truth to the lies. You truly have been wonderfully and fearfully created in God's image.

4. Get professional help and support: Drunks need AA. Drug addicts need treatment and counseling. Rage-a-holics need therapy. The list goes on and it's serious stuff. Many of us have to overcome the lies in an effort to simply change one belief and it will require outside help.

5. Start believing: You are not defective. You are lovable. You can feel secure. You do belong. You have the power to protect yourself and to control your destiny. Your house can survive a little chaos. Your kids can make mistakes - maybe even achieve a C or D on the report card.

6. Bring others on your journey: Stop the self-centered thinking and begin helping others as well. You don't have to be completely well to stop others from drinking whatever it was that made you sick. Begin immediately providing love and support to another person in trouble. Give and it shall be given to you.

7. Start today: I'm going to go outside now and finish cleaning up the leaves so when spring comes, I don't have to say, "I wish I'd have done what I was supposed to have done last fall." Getter done....... TODAY!